Teresa, according to the all-knowing internet, is ‘generally believed to have been derived from the Greek word therizein, meaning to reap, or gather in, and thus takes the definition of, harvester.’ Someone who brings in the fruits of a season, hopefully of plenty. Someone who reaps where they sowed.
She grew up in Nanyuki. If you know anything at all about Nanyuki, then you know that it is lushly verdant in some places, not so much in others, and has a tendency to be cold everywhere. Being poised on the leeward side of a mountain tends to do that to you. It’s the type of place that makes you wonder how kids go to school in the dead of night – because this is Kenya, unfortunately, it is in the dead of night – with this weather. They probably look like frozen little sweater balls, standing in a row at a bus stop, or walking shuffled, together, almost rolling to school. School where, they are told, they can take their future into their hands and change their lives. And maybe, move to somewhere a little warmer…
School is where the first seeds of human progression in education are planted. They might not have a fertile ground, and the farmers may not be excellent, and the factors of weather and manure may vary, but they are planted nonetheless. It was thus for Teresa, who went to Muthaiga Primary School, all the way until class 8, when…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Muthaiga Primary was a public day school. Every day Teresa would go to school, do the things that children are told they must do, and then come back home to her mother. It was a typical Kenyan life and homestead in a typical Kenyan setting. They lived near the school, which is why she was registered there. Another institution that also shared the road with the school was Huruma – a home for orphans. Many of Teresa’s classmates were orphans from Huruma. It was a normal thing.
But never could Teresa have dreamt that this fate was to befall her as well.
Teresa’ mother had been sick for some time, but they had all thought that she would pull through. Until she didn’t – and she gave up her ghost right when Teresa was just about to cross the first threshold of 8-4-4, in class 8.
The teachers were, of course, encouraging. They had to be. They were so close to the first milestone, and if Teresa was derailed now, who knew what would happen? But they could only do so much, because nothing buoys like a mother’s love. The ground had fallen out from under her. There were not many resources, both in the school and at home, and Teresa was now officially an orphan – her mother had been raising her alone and the only relative she could go to now was her grandmother, who lived in the same area.
If nothing buoys like a mother’s love, then a grandmother’s love must be where the mother learnt the skill, no? Teresa went to live with her grandmother, who now became her mother in the absence of her own. Miraculously, this child, after having gone through such a blow,did her exams and was called to St. Francis, a high school in Laikipia North.
But things were still tight. Teresa’ grandmother was significantly older than her mother, obviously, and also did not have the means needed to get her grandchild to school. What were they going to do? They were going to call on the community, that is what they were going to do. Teresa’s grandmother organized a small harambee, and managed to at least take Teresa to school.
When the two of them got to the school in Laikipia North, her grandmother had to go see the principal. She explained to her, delicately, that there was really no money for Teresa to go to school – but they were going to try, by Jove, they were going to try. She was going to roast and sell maize in town to raise the school fees, and would the principal accept payment of fees in instalments? She promised Teresa would do well. And Teresa vowed to do well too. Would the school be ok with that?
The school was ok with that. And so Teresa begun her secondary education, fresh off the scars of an orphaned past. And these scars were not easily healed, either. Losing your mother does something irreversible to your heart. It’s your first taste of what it feels like, to lose your first home and your first protector. And it was no different for little Teresa. Something changed inside her, irrevocably, the day her mother died. Her life was shattered, and so was her self-confidence. It was a scary time.
Teresa, at some point, decided that she was worried enough about her mental well being and self-esteem that she would not give them up without a fight. Even at this tender age, she knew that something was wrong with her, psychologically, and she knew that she could choose to do something about it. Her solution? To join every club she possibly could in high school. Not just for the funkies out of school, though that helped as well, but also because she needed to learn to be herself again. She needed to learn how to speak in front of people, how to get comfortable expressing herself amongst others. So it followed that one of the clubs she joined was Journalism Club, which she eventually became the vice chairlady of, as well as the Environment Club.
True to the promise she and her grandmother made, Teresa worked hard outside of class but in class as well. A friendly soul who liked to talk to people, she made friends with her teachers and her principal, which proved useful when she needed help getting a bursary to supplement what her grandmother was so faithfully sending. This is how Teresa got through high school.
And that is how, one week after she did her exams and came home, her ailing grandmother passed away.
You can imagine how Teresa felt. She had lost two of her mothers, beloved and dear, in one lifetime. It was almost too much to bear. Her future was even more uncertain than it had been 4 years ago, and this time, she truly, truly, had no one.
Exams and results came and went and Teresa stayed in Nanyuki, unable to join university with the people she finished school in the same year as. There was simply no way, and no money. She was despondent – but still determined. She figured she had to have a plan. Maybe she wasn’t going to be able to go to university this year, but maybe next year…maybe next year, she could make the cut. And what would she need to make the cut?
Teresa started doing small jobs around the town. It was difficult at first, watching her age group leave her behind, but at least she had an ID. That allowed her to do short-term waitressing at hotels during the week, every so often, and promotions during the weekends when certain companies were in town and wanted to push their products. It wasn’t a 9 to 5 – but it was a job to keep her busy, and out of her aunty’s house, where she was staying. Her aunty couldn’t help much, as she was young with 3 children who needed her care, and stayed home to be a housewife. Even with family, you can outstay your welcome, not because they don’t want you there, but simply because they can’t afford you any more.
The reason this was even harder for Teresa, aside from the hardships she had barely endured, was because of that first seed sown in school. You’re told that you’re going to go to school, and this will help you build your career. You’re told hard work is the key. You’re told to pray that you pass all the exams you have to do, join campus and start this thing called life. Teresa used to pray. She used to tell God that she wanted to pass so that she could go to university and finish and help her grandmother. And now, she was watching her prayers and hopes and dreams dashed before her eyes. And who was there to talk to? Not a big fan of talking about her problems, she kept a lot of these questions she had inside to herself. Her friends were privy to her life, but only as far as she would let them.
The year finally ended. Teresa got into campus and applied for HELB, as you do when funds are lacking for school. In her first semester, she saw her other friends receiving the money from HELB, and wondered when her money was coming; she was already enrolled, but maintenance was becoming an issue. How was she supposed to eat, move, read? She decided to go see the Dean of Studies and explain her situation. The whole story spilled out – how she was an orphan, how she just joined campus, and how her HELB was late, and she really needed the money. The Dean called HELB to ask them what was going on, and the Dean was told to tell her to wait.
Teresa says she’s not exactly sure how it happened. She’s not sure if someone referred her, or the Dean called someone, but the next thing she knew, she was getting an email from Barclays Bank, telling her that she is the recipient of the Barclays Bank Kenya Scholarship, which is going to cater to her fees, accommodation, upkeep and a laptop – for the next 3 years.
She was so happy. She didn’t even know that Barclays offered scholarships! It was her newest miracle – the miracle that is her life. Maybe there was hope after all. Maybe those years of pain and depression weren’t for nothing. Maybe her name was finally manifesting in her life – someone who brings in the fruits of a bountiful season. Her season.
Teresa is pursuing a BA in Economics, and plans to continue in that vein till her Masters. She was telling me this on a cold Nanyuki-like morning in Nairobi, with confidence in her voice. She knows there was a time when she wasn’t this confident, but that has changed. She told me that she used to blame God; it felt like her prayers were falling on deaf ears. ‘He took my mother, and my grandmother. I used to feel like all was gone for me. Now, I feel like with the scholarship, I’ve been given a new chance for good things to come.’